What’s in Your Sunscreen? A Breakdown of Common Ingredients

By now, we’re pretty sure you’ve heard you should wear sunscreen daily. But what is sunscreen exactly? When you understand the ingredients, you’ll be better able to make informed choices and give your skin maximum protection from UV rays. In this article, we highlight common components found in sunscreens to keep you in the loop.

Broad-Spectrum Protection

When selecting a sunscreen product, the label should read “broad-spectrum.” This indicates that the product offers protection from UVA and UVB rays.

  • UVA: UVA rays penetrate deeply into skin layers. These rays can be responsible for unwanted skin issues like premature aging and wrinkles.
  • UVB: When you get sunburned, UVB rays are responsible.

When you choose a sunscreen labeled for broad-spectrum protection, you will reduce your risk for health risks like:

  • Sunburns
  • Skin cancer
  • Skin damage

Our Pick: EltaMD UV Sport Broad-Spectrum SPF 50 ($30, shop here)

Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide

Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are common minerals used in sunscreen. They provide physical barriers to reflect UV rays away from your skin, perfect for sensitive skin. Sunscreens with these ingredients offer gentler UV ray absorption. Their protection starts immediately upon application and is less likely to cause skin irritation or allergic reactions than chemical filters, making them suitable for all skin types. If you have sensitive or reactive skin conditions, these ingredients could work wonders!

Our Pick: Paula’s Choice Resist Super-Light Wrinkle Defense SPF 30 ($37, shop here)

Avobenzone and Oxybenzone

Avobenzone and oxybenzone are popular sunscreen chemicals that filter UV radiation into less damaging forms, like heat. Chemical sunscreens tend to be lightweight and easy to apply, making them popular choices for daily use.

Avobenzone can effectively absorb UVA rays, while oxybenzone protects from UVA and UVB rays. However, studies have raised concerns regarding possible hormonal side effects and their impact on coral reefs. For a change of pace, consider sunscreens with alternative chemical filters like Octinoxate or Mexoryl SX for more effective sun protection.

Our Pick: Sun Bum Original SPF 50 Sunscreen Spray (18.49, shop here)


Some sunscreens contain antioxidants like vitamins C and E, neutralizing free radicals from UV exposure, thereby decreasing oxidative stress and potential skin damage. Look for sunscreens with these ingredients, as they shield skin from UV rays and nourish and support overall skin health.

Our Pick: Banana Boat Protection + Vitamins Moisturizing Sunscreen Spray SPF 30 ($8.99, shop here)

Hydrating and Soothing Ingredients

If you have specific skin concerns or just want to enhance your glow in general, try sunscreen formulas with natural ingredients known for their hydrating and soothing effects. These include:

These components help replenish moisture in the skin, soothe inflammation, and prevent dryness or irritation caused by sun exposure.

Our Pick: Australian Gold Plant-Based Sunscreen Lotion with Aloe & Coconut ($11.99, shop here)

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